‘Little GTO’: Still Big at 50
“Three deuces and a four-speed and a 389”: In 1964, Ronny & The Daytonas accelerated to #4 on the Billboard Pop Singles with “Little GTO,” bragging Pontiac’s new high-performance V-8 option with tri-carburetion on its Tempest midsize.
Laveen’s Doug Rodgers and Chandler’s Shaun Brown are two Valleyites who keep that great tradition cranked up during the car’s 50th anniversary this year. Rodgers remembers when the mighty muscle car, some say the first, debuted. Brown’s dad, this writer, does, too, barely. But Shaun was two decades from birth when the Pontiac GTO began its journey. Today, he makes up for that time with a last generation edition of the GTO, a 2005 in classic Quicksilver on black.
Fifty Years of Fast and Fun
The Pontiac GTO —The Goat and The Great One — was developed, among others, by John De Lorean, Pontiac’s chief engineer, and ad exec and auto fan Jim Wangers. Some GM executives thought this was the wrong track, especially as GM had just pulled out of competitive racing and severely curtailed the engine sizes in its small and midsize models. But, when the sales numbers for the first and second years came in, everyone fell into the caravan.
Others thought it sacrilegious, too, to name a lowly American midsize option for the great Ferrari GTOs, which had been dominating European tracks during the 1960s. These were GTOs for “Gran Turismo Omologato” referring to homologation for street/race use.
But, then they raced the two, and, for the quarter mile, the American David bested the Roman Goliath. Imagine, young male driver in Toledo, Ohio, or Phoenix, Arizona: You could own a car as straight-line fast as a Ferrari, and wouldn’t that impress Mary Lou and your buddies at the drive-up burger joint?
At GM, the Olds 442 quickly followed and the Chevelle SS 396 and the Buick Grand Sport. Mopars churned out, too, with Beep Beep Roadrunners, upmarket GTXs and Barracuda’s, some equipped with those great Hemi engines up to 426 cubes with two four-barrels. And, of course, at Ford, which revealed the legendary Mustang in 1964 ½ by way of Lee Iacocca, the muscle car found outstanding iterations in the Shelby 350s and 500s and the legendary Boss 429.
Essentially, there are seven generations of the Pontiac GTO, and everyone has his or her favorites: ‘64/’65; ’66 and ’67, with the later debuting the 400-cid engine; the ’68 through ’72 models; the ’73; the Chevy Nova lookalike ’74; and the 2004 through 2006, based on the Australian Holdens, with contemporary 5.7 and 6.0-liter GM powerplants. The car phased out in 2006 and Pontiac itself four years later, a decision that GM had to make but which still pains the enthusiast.
A blue-on-white ’69 GTO convertible was the first muscle car I drove, and it’s like your first love. That year, the pinnacle of the muscle-car era, the GTO figures were impressive, with 72,287 sold, including 6,833 optioned as “The Judge,” based on the Sammy Davis Junior character on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In show.
Also in 1969, the legendary Ram Air V option was also introduced, with high-compression tunnel port heads and high-rise intake manifold. Perhaps the quickest GTOs, these reportedly were good for 0–60 at 5.2 seconds, and quarter-mile slips of 11.5 sec @ 123 mph. Be judged!
Doug Rodgers’ Barn
Rodgers grew up in South Bend, Ind., and fell in love with cars at about the age of 13. “From then from on, I had to know how they worked, and, to my father’s dismay, I was always tearing something apart and putting it back together.”
He moved to Phoenix in 1972 with his wife and two children, Brian and Michelle. He was going to drive out a 1966 GTO, but the day before they were scheduled to leave, he found a crack in the transmission case and had to drive out in his other car. He ended up selling the GTO and never saw it again.
A few years later, he bought a commercial glazing company and married his current wife, Noelle. “We share and both work in the business, but, most importantly, Noelle supports my collecting cars and helps me where she can,” Doug says.
He also joined the Cactus GTOs of Arizona, a chapter of the GTO Association of America. “We have about 70 families and organize car cruises, attend shows and have monthly meetings.” (www.cactusgto.com)
Says Rodgers: “My cars are not so special as classic cars go, but they’re special to me”:
1968 GTO — “We bought the 1968 GTO in 1992 as a replacement for my wife’s tired Chevrolet. I told her we could get a brand-new one with a warranty or an older car that I could work on. This is what we ended up with.
“We are the third owner; the car was purchased new in Long Beach. All the numbers match and it still has the original interior. I also have the original brochure the dealer supplied with pricing at the time. My wife has another car she drives now.”
1966 GTO — “The second car I bought was the in 2008. I always wanted to get another ’66, and finally I found this one after 36 years. This one is my baby.” And,
1964 Convertible — “I had never owned a convertible in my life and when I saw this one on eBay I had to get it. I have never purchased anything off eBay, and I have never purchased a car sight unseen.
“The car was in Americus, Georgia, so seeing it wasn’t an option. I had it shipped out to Arizona and crossed my fingers. When the delivery truck arrived, I was afraid to open the door. Lo and behold, the car looked like the picture. I considered myself very lucky.”
Rodgers had a stroke last year, one arm doesn’t work, and he is in a wheel chair. “But I still drive the GTOs,” he says. “I had to replace the four speed with an automatic, but where there’s a will there’s a way. It is going to take more than that to keep me away from my “GOATS.”
“Wind it up, blow it out, GTO!”
One Quick Quicksilver GTO
Brown’s 2005 GTO is his business car, and it means business every time he drives it.
The final-generation GTO was tepidly received by enthusiasts in 2004, who nevertheless admitted that it was fast, well appointed and luxurious.
“Many thought it was untrue to the original because of its foreign manufacture and lack of curb appeal, but I’ve found the car to not only be reliable but a stout muscle car performer as well,” says Brown, an IT specialist and entrepreneur (www.logicatool.com) living in Chandler with his wife, Shailja.
Brown points out that his 2005 may have started life as a Vauxhall Monaro VXR in Australia, but with a few bolt-ons he’s added, the car’s standard LS2 6.0 aluminum block with aluminum heads outputs approximately 450 bhp. And the interior comfort compares with that of luxury imports. His car also has standard independent four corner suspension and leather interior.
“Often ignored is that the 05/06 GTOs, alongside their four-door G8 GXP counterparts were the fastest production cars ever released by Pontiac during its final golden years,” says Brown, who also garages a rare Hugger Orange ’99 Camaro packing a blueprinted 427 and a rare Pontiac Firehawk.
“I receive compliments every time I drive the car, and even as my daily driver the GTO averages 23 mpg,” he says. “The only complaint I have is there are fewer and fewer GTOs (or replacement parts) around. This generation is truly the last of a great breed.”
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